Fishing Hook Types and Sizes: An Essential Guide for Beginners

For a beginner, acquiring the necessary gear to go freshwater fishing can be a daunting task.  A trip to the local sporting goods store or tackle shop can result in hours upon hours spent wandering aimlessly through aisle after aisle browsing through fishing poles, reels and a seemingly infinite variety of tackle.  

As many experienced anglers will tell you, the single most important piece of equipment for catching fish may be the last thing you would think of – the hook.  Tying the wrong fishing hook to your line can result in a wasted day out on the water, whether it be the frustration of constantly losing your bait or wondering what it would take to get even a single nibble.

In this article, we examine the various fishing hook types and sizes.  Today’s fishing hooks are highly specialized.  Specific hooks are used to target particular species of fish and are designed for certain habitats.  The same can be said for the fishing hook size. The size will dictate what type of bait can be placed on the hook and how large it can be; in turn, this determines the size of fish targeted.

Knowing the essentials of fishing hooks will enable you to determine the right hook to use for certain fish, with the right type of bait and suitability for the habitat or conditions where you will be fishing.  Add these all up and you will increase your chances of a successful fishing excursion.

Anatomy of a Fishing Hook

To fully appreciate how the many types of fishing hooks differ from each other, it is important to understand the basic anatomy of a fishing hook.  All fishing hooks, no matter the type, shape, or size, will have the following parts. It’s the difference in one or more of these attributes that sets one fishing hook apart from another.

Virtually all modern fishing hooks are made from hard metal, usually stainless steel or high-carbon steel for their strength and durability.  Fishing hooks are formed from wire of varying thicknesses or gauges from this metal and are commonly coated with a material that protects the fishing hook against corrosion from exposure to water and while being stored.


The eye is a loop formed on one end of the hook, which serves to attach the hook to fishing line or a lure.  Certain types of fishing hook eyes are better suited for particular types of fish or in certain habitats or environments, while others are specifically reserved for fly fishing applications.  Eyes can vary in the size of their aperture, their weight and how they are positioned – upturned, downturned, or straight.

Here is a look at the more common types of eyes:

  • Ringed – This is the most common type of eye and is popular because it is relatively easier to thread fishing line through it, and it is compatible with a wide variety of knots.
  • Brazed – Similar to a ringed eye but fully enclosed through metal brazing, hooks with brazed eyes are typically used by anglers targeting larger, heavier fish.
  • Needle – A hook with a needle eye presents a very slender profile that enables the entire hook to be threaded through a bait fish or artificial worm and be practically invisible in the water.
  • Tapered – The metal loop on hooks with tapered eyes tapers to a thin point where the loop closes, and the slight reduction in weight that this affords seems to make all the difference in the world to anglers who fish with dry flies which must float on top of the water to be effective.
  • Looped – This is another specialized attribute that appeals to anglers who fish with flies, in this case, wet flies that are submerged in the water.  The metal wire that forms the loop of the eye doubles back and runs parallel to the shank, providing additional weight by virtue of a “double” shank, which also provides a larger base for tying the flies on.


Starting from the base of the eye, the length of wire that runs to the bend, or curved portion of the fishing hook, is called the shank.  Depending on the type and size of bait being used, or the species of fish that is being targeted, the length of the shank will vary. Fishing hook shanks are most commonly straight but can be curved on certain hooks.

For example, to accommodate larger baits such as live fish, a longer shank is needed.  Another instance where a longer shank may be desired is when the targeted fish has powerful jaws or sharp teeth that can otherwise bite through fishing line.  In such cases, having a longer shank will serve much the same purpose as a steel leader.

On some fishing hooks, there are small barbs on the shank, which help to prevent bait from sliding off the hook (sometimes referred to as baitholders).


The bend is the U-shaped curve that starts where the shank ends.  It is the transition from the blunt end of the fishing hook where the eye sits, and the sharp end of the hook where the point lies.  As with the other parts of the fishing hook, there is great variance in the shape and degree of the bend, depending on the type of bait being used, the species of fish being targeted, and the habitat where the fish lives.

On some types of fishing hooks, the bend is uniform and truly U-shaped, such as jig, Aberdeen, and most bait holder and worm hooks.  On others, the bend is wide and shallow such as circle, Kahle, and weedless fishing hooks.  


As you proceed from the eye of a fishing hook to the shank and through the bend, the throat is the portion that lies between the bend and the point.  Looked at another way, since it runs from the point to the bend where the hook changes direction dramatically, the throat represents the depth that a fishing hook can penetrate a fish’s mouth.

Point and Barb

Anglers often refer to the point of a fishing hook as its business end, where fish and hook meet.  This is the part of the hook through which the bait is loaded, and it is what penetrates the fish’s mouth as it attempts to eat the bait.  More than any other part of the hook, the point has more of an effect on whether an angler will have a fish on the line.

The specific attributes of points will vary depending on the hook type and the species of fish being targeted.  These are the primary categories of fishing hook points:

  • Needle – This type of point is designed for quick penetration of the fish’s mouth flesh, and to accomplish this the tip is slightly angled toward the shank.  Because it pierces so efficiently, a needle point creates a very small point of entry and does minimal harm to the fish. This is one of the more difficult points for a fish to shake off to free itself.
  • Spear – This is the most common type of fishing hook point.  It is effective at piercing the fish’s mouth and does a decent job of keeping the fish on the line.  It also has a relatively small point of entry and as such, limits the harm to a fish fighting to throw the hook.
  • Rolled In – Similar to a needle point, a rolled in point is designed for effortless piercing, and it is particularly effective in keeping strong, fighting fish on the line.
  • Hollow – This type of point has the sharpest inward curve and is often used with soft-fleshed species.  Because of the steeper curve, fishing hooks with hollow points usually require greater force and a higher degree of skill on the part of the angler to properly set the hook in the mouth of fish with thicker, tougher flesh.
  • Knife Edge – Sharpened on two sides, a knife edge point trails away from the shank and is designed for maximum piercing effect.  Because the point is sharpened on multiple surfaces and the barb protrudes significantly from the throat, fishing hooks with knife edge points often damage the fish’s mouth significantly, and they are sometimes difficult to extricate from the fish.

A barb is an additional point that sits below the main hook point on the interior, or shaft-side, of the hook. 

 It serves two primary purposes:  

  1. It prevents the bait from sliding off the hook while in the water. 
  2. It helps anchor the fishing hook in the fish’s flesh when the hook is set by the angler.

Since it is by design a means of preventing fish from shaking off the fishing hook, barbs can inflict substantial damage to the fish’s mouth and make removal of the hook more challenging.  In some cases, a fish will swallow the entire hook and barb, making it virtually impossible to extricate the fishing hook without causing mortal injury to the fish.

In a catch-and-release scenario, fishing hooks with barbs may reduce a fish’s chances of survival once released back to the water.  For this reason, barbless fishing hooks are preferred by anglers for catch-and-release fishing. Many anglers will file down or break off the barbs on their fishing hooks to minimize injury to fish that will be released back to the water.


The gap is the distance between the point and throat on one side of the fishing hook, and the shank on the other.  Also known as gape, a wider gap allows for placement of larger bait and targeting bigger fish, while a smaller gap is preferred for fishing with worms and artificial bait.

Overview of the Different Types of Fishing Hooks

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different types of fishing hooks.  Many hooks are highly specialized for a specific species of fish, or a single type of bait, or for fishing in a particular type of environment.  For most anglers, there are roughly eight to ten fishing hooks that are considered tackle box essentials for freshwater fishing.

Bait Holder

This is your basic, staple fishing hook with broad applications.  Most commonly baited with wriggling bait such as worms and nightcrawlers, barbs on the shank prevent bait slippage.  Because the point on bait holder hooks are typically barbed and point inward toward the shank, this is not the ideal hook for catch-and-release fishing because of the damage they can inflict to a fish’s flesh.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Perch, crappie, croaker, bluegill, whitefish, bass, trout, walleye, catfish


This type of hook is specifically designed for baiting with plastic worms.  The unique shelf feature below the eye of the worm hook enables the point to be threaded through the entire length of the bait, with the needle eye embedded in the bait and the fishing line exiting from the worm’s “tail.”

There is even a special technique of baiting worm hooks known as “Texas rigging” in which the point of the hook is hidden within the worm and is not only highly effective for encouraging strikes and successfully hooking fish, but also provides an increased degree of weed escapability.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout


Jig hooks are another type of hook that are specially designed with a particular type of bait in mind, in this case, jigs.  A jig hook has a weight incorporated into the hook near the eye, which sits at a ninety-degree angle to the shank. This design feature encourages a vertical movement of the bait in the water (as opposed to a horizontal movement, which is more common).

Many anglers have taken to making their own jig hooks and baits as a hobby, much like fly anglers tie their own flies.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout, salmon, pike, catfish, walleye, redfish


The point on a circle hook leans inward dramatically toward the shank forming an overall circular shape.  This unique design causes the hook to roll in the mouth of the fish, and it does not set until the fish attempts to swim away with the bait in its mouth, at which time the point will catch and pierce the corner of the fish’s mouth or lip.  

Circle hooks are the least likely to be swallowed and are therefore the top choice among catch-and-release anglers.  

It is this fish-friendly aspect that also presents challenges to anglers that are not accustomed to fishing with circle hooks.  Unlike other hooks that must be set by pulling up hard on the rod upon strike, this type of hook cannot be set until the bait is firmly in the fish’s mouth and the fish has started to swim away.  Otherwise the hook can be inadvertently yanked out of the fish’s mouth prior to setting.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout, salmon, pike, catfish, walleye, redfish


Weedless hooks are similar in shape to circle hooks but are usually a thinner gauge.  Their distinguishing feature is a thin piece of plastic or wire that covers the point and in essence, encloses the entire hook so that nothing can enter the gap except for the mouth of a fish going after the bait.

For this reason, weedless hooks are used when fishing in waters that are filled with heavy vegetation where other types of hooks would get snagged.  Bass anglers consider weedless hooks an absolute must since bass thrive in areas where underwater vegetation is plentiful as well as under wooden docks where hook points can get caught.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pike


This is another type of hook that is popular among catch-and-release anglers because it is not as likely to be swallowed by fish (aka gut hooking).  It is a versatile hook with a point that curves slightly toward the shank. Siwash hooks also feature a ringed eye that has an opening large enough to enable this hook to be used in the place of treble hooks on lures and similar tackle.

Siwash hooks are reputedly effective with fish that fight and jump when hooked, particularly salmon.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout, salmon, pike, catfish, walleye, redfish


This is a very popular type of hook favored by anglers of all skill levels targeting a broad range of fish.  Also referred to as live bait hooks, octopus hooks feature a point that curves slightly inward toward a shank that is relatively short and rounded, giving a teardrop-like shape to the hook.  

This setup makes octopus hooks ideal for presenting delicate live bait such as leeches and minnows in a natural manner.  The gap is large enough, however, to snag larger gamefish, including largemouth bass.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, perch, crappie, croaker, bluegill, whitefish


This is one of the oldest known types of hooks originating from the salmon-rich streams of Scotland.  It features a thin gauge wire with a long straight shank, uniform bend, and a point and barb that extend from a straight throat.  

The Aberdeen is a very straight forward fishing hook which despite its long history, remains popular with today’s anglers, particularly with regard to its uncanny ability to keep small, live baits alive on the hook for extended periods.

Because of its thin gauge, the Aberdeen hook has a high degree of flex, which enables it to be worked free from snags in vegetation because of its unique ability to twist and bend.  It is, therefore, popular among anglers who fish near wooden docks and in bodies of water with heavy vegetation.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Perch, crappie, croaker, bluegill, whitefish


This is a very rugged hook made with wire of a substantial gauge and a point that is curved inward toward the eye.  It has a straight shank with a fairly shallow bend creating a large gap that is ideal for large baits. Kahle hooks are intended for hooking large, strong, fighting fish and are easily set by the angler upon first strike.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout, catfish, redfish


A treble hook is a hybrid of three points branching out along three bends from a single shank and eye.  It is commonly used on lures and similar tackle. The triple hook array does have superior coverage and larger lures will often have two to three treble hooks attached to them.

Because of the triple points, treble hooks can be challenging to unhook from a fish’s mouth.  They are also known to cause damage to a fish’s flesh and are therefore not used in a catch-and-release situation.  In certain states and jurisdictions, it is illegal to use live bait in conjunction with a treble hook.

Commonly Targeted Fish:  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout, salmon, pike, catfish, walleye, redfish

How Do Fishing Hook Sizes Work?

Just as different types of fishing hooks are designed to be used with certain baits and are better suited for particular species of fish, so too do different hook sizes correlate to certain fishing scenarios to produce better results.

Fishing hook sizes can range from smaller than the tip of your pinkie to as large as the palm of your hand.  Even though the general rule of thumb says that you can hook a large fish with a small hook but you cannot hook a small fish with a large hook, properly sizing your hook according to the bait you will use, and the fish you want to catch is crucial to having a good day spent on the water.

Understanding the Listed Hook Sizes

All fishing hook packaging will state, among other information, the hook’s size.  Hook sizes are indicated by a number but a basic level of understanding is needed to decipher the numbering system.

Perhaps the simplest place to start is the middle, or median, of the fishing hook size scale.  Starting from the middle, to the left you will have hooks arranged by numerical sizes. Hook sizes will typically range from 1 being the largest (closest to the median) and 30 being the smallest, with 29 being the next smallest and 28 being the next smallest, and so on until you get to size 1.

Thus, a size 6 hook will be larger than a size 10.

Once again, starting from the median, to the right are numerical “aughts” that designate fishing hook size.  This system employs a number followed by a forward slash followed by a zero. Thus, a hook size 1/0 is read as “one aught” and 5/0 is read as “five aught.”

In contrast to hook sizes on the left of the median where the larger digit corresponds to a smaller hook, the aught scale assigns larger hooks to the larger digit preceding the slash and zero.  Therefore, an 8/0 (eight aught) hook is larger than a 3/0 (three aught) hook.

To recap, on a sliding scale, the hook sizes and hook aughts would look something like this:

Hook SizesAught Sizes
30 (Smallest) to 1 (Largest)Median1/0 (Smallest) to 19/0 (Largest)

Are Fishing Hook Sizes Standardized?

It is very important to note that there is, unfortunately, no standardization of this sizing system with respect to the many types of fishing hooks on the market.  In other words, a size 10 circle hook will not correspond to a size 10 worm hook.In many cases, they will appear to be completely different sizes.

Similarly, even hooks of the same numerical value and type will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.  For example, a 2/0 jig hook from Brand A will not be the same size as 2/0 jig hooks from Brand B or C. In this respect, it is important to do your homework to ensure that when you cast your first line out you have properly sized gear for the fish you are targeting.

Understanding Other Fishing Hook Attributes

Aside from size, other attributes of fishing hooks will determine their suitability for a particular fishing excursion.  

  • The first is the thickness, or gauge, of the metal wire used in the manufacture of the hook.  This can range from fine wire, which will be the thinnest material, to 3X heavy and 4X heavy, which will be the thickest, heaviest material.
  • Another important attribute is the length of the hook, which corresponds closest to the length of the shank.  In general, the higher the numerical value of the length, the longer the shank. This is commonly indicated by 2X long, 3X long, and so on.  As previously noted, longer shanks facilitate larger baits and sometimes take the place of steel leaders to prevent lines from being cut by fish biting through them.
  • Finally, the size of the gap (or gape as it’s known by many) is yet another important attribute of a fishing hook that needs to be properly sized for angler’s targeted fish.  Since the gap represents the amount of space between the shank on one side of the hook and the point on the other, it is commonly considered the key indicator of what size bait can be placed on the hook. Gap is typically denoted as width values such as 2X wide, 3X wide, and so on.

Although at first glance selecting the ideal fishing hooks for a day’s fishing excursion may seem to be a daunting task, particularly for a novice angler, with a little research and a bit of knowledge, most of the guesswork can be eliminated and you can have confidence in knowing you made the best choice for your situation.

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